Autumn didn’t stop. She continued running past the threshold & into the rainy streets, pockets stuffed with tools. She looked over her shoulder & sweat when she saw Edgar lagging ’hind—though still ’head o’ their pursuers.
With her head still pointed backward, she felt her feet struggle gainst gravity & fell forward, smacking her face onto craggy concrete, as well as spilling her pockets’ contents all over the street & sidewalk.
“O my god! Are you OK?” Edgar said as he tried quickening his run toward Autumn, almost tripping himself on his robe.
“Fuck,” she muttered as she raised her head, revealing a red crack on her forehead. She glanced to the side to see the pursuers gaining.
“Shit,” she muttered as she leapt to her feet. “Keep going,” she said to Edgar just ’fore resuming her run.
She examined herself as she went. She exhaled easily when she realized her glasses had only been cracked. However, she noticed a stiff numbness in her right arm, & when she tried moving it, found that it moved just as stiffly.
Well, that can’t be good.
As was her usual technique to lose pursuers, she winded round alleys & turns, trying to obfuscate her trail as much as possible.
One o’ the benefits ’bout taking Edgar on o’ all these excursions o’ mine is that he should’ve become experienced ’nough to know what I’m doing—which means he should hopefully not be caught.
She risked a second’s pause in the middle o’ a particularly dank alley & looked over her shoulder. When she saw nobody nearby, she lifted the lid o’ the dumpster sitting gainst the alley’s back brick wall & climbed in, closing the lid tightly ’nough so that she could see outside, but none could see inside.
She waited inside for almost a half hour ’fore she judged it safe to return to the outside world, emerging from the black void o’ the dumpster & the shadows o’ the alley.
As she peeked out the corner o’ the alley, she thought, I wonder if it’d be safe to return to the scene o’ the crime & see if my pilfered wares are still there.
But she already knew that the one rational option—a’least, the one option that fit within her mind’s logic: the only outcome o’ her not returning to pick up her spilled burglaries would be to gain nothing—would be an implicit surrender.
& how could I give up a still-slightly-viable victory so easily & then complain ’bout a lack o’ opportunities?
So she tried retracing her paces, hoping she’d relocate Edgar on the way.
It turned out, she found Edgar loitering round the same area in which she’d dropped her goods.
“There you are,” he said. “I thought you’d return to see if you could pick the stuff back up ’gain. You OK?”
“What? Sure,” she muttered as she unconsciously rubbed her forehead. “You shouldn’t have waited round here out in the open. Cops may check round here to see if we’d return, & they did see you, too, so they would arrest you as an accomplice.”
“I know,” he said as he nodded. “I waited where they couldn’t see me till they left—they were here. They picked everything up, unfortunately.”
“’Course,” Autumn said. Her whole body appeared to melt under the torrents: her bangs stuck down to her face like bent tentacles, her shoulders slumped, & every ripple o’ her jacket & sweats sagged & dripped.
Her arms, however, slung themselves to her chest tightly, in an awkward-looking position that caught Edgar’s eyeholes.
“Is something wrong with your arm?” he asked as he walked toward her.
“Fucked it up when I fell,” she said. “Don’t believe it’s broken, though—just sprang.”
Edgar gasped as he stopped next to her & stared @ it. “I’m sorry.”
“To be fair, I doubt you were a cause.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Not much. The true problem is the negative effect it’ll have on my thieving abilities—which evidently need sharpening.” She stared down @ the puddle-strewn street.
“I’m sure that was just bad luck. It’s not your fault,” Edgar said.
“’Less my legs were suddenly possessed, I doubt that,” Autumn said. “’Sides, those who can’t succeed through bad luck are just as much failures as those who rely on good luck.”
They paused, both still staring @ the empty gray street.
After a few minutes, Autumn said, “Come,” & began walking ’way.
“So what’re we gonna do now?” Edgar asked as he followed.
“Same thing we always do: try, try ’gain for that .1% victory hiding ’mong the 99.9% haystack o’ failure.”
If Autumn & Edgar’s surroundings could be described with one word, it’d be “empty.” Within the half hour since they’d stopped to rest, the rain had run out like a shower nozzle turned off. The dusty cloud curtains parted to reveal their contrastive radiant star, just as she was on her way out, leaving the sky to look like a sloppy watercolor o’ dreary grays & bright primaries. Meanwhile, the roads & sidewalks were starved o’ cars & pedestrians. The only noise that remained were the sparse drips o’ the rain’s dregs left on roofs & pines.
To what extent am I in control o’ my success? Autumn mused as she clutched her forehead like a “Magic 8 Ball.” ’Cause I just can’t think o’ anything. I mean, I’ve always had to pump the ol’ well for drips; but now it seems completely parched. I’m sure there are opportunities out there, but how to find them? I could try squandering all o’ my energy wandering round in idle search, as I’ve already done many times ’fore; but that has almost never correlated with success, indicating its prospects o’ benefit are far lower than the energy costs.
’Course, the same applies to thieving in general.
Autumn stood, startling Edgar into attention. She didn’t notice.
I have to think o’ something completely new. Must break through the tedious patterns holding my imagination back.
“You have an idea?” Edgar asked.
“Huh?” Autumn turned to the noise as if waken from a dream. “O. No. Just thought some movement might make me think better.”
She sat back down & stared @ the thin rainbow swimming in the road puddle.
Their attention shifted when they heard a man’s voice & footsteps echo through the empty city as if in a tunnel. He was gasping as he trudged through the pavement on his torn knees, shirtless, his hair the shattered branches o’ a fur. Autumn’s bile rose as she noticed the flesh o’ part o’ his belly & two o’ his fingers had been ripped off, leaving visible bone.
Edgar looked ’tween her & the stranger, though
“You, uh… you need any help, sir?” he asked in a voice much too quiet for the stranger to hear.
They watched him crawl to the storm drain & hold his hands over it. A flash o’ white zipped by.
“There…” he gasped. “Now I’m free.”
& with that, he slowly crawled ’way.
It probably wasn’t anything useful, Autumn thought as she continued to stare @ the storm drain.
It wouldn’t hurt to check.
She waited till she was sure the stranger had left & then carefully rose from the curb. She walked over to it with a feigned casual sway—while glancing furtively to her sides—& then stopped & bent down next it.
When she peered inside, all she saw was a thin beam o’ light; so she pulled out her flashlight & pointed it inside. As if ’twere the moon reflecting light from the sun, she saw what she swore was shaped as a diamond sparkle.
Couldn’t be, she thought. How would a diamond end up in a storm drain? Surely that fellow didn’t drop a diamond down the drain.
Maybe he’s superstitious. Maybe he went through a disaster & thought that dropping a diamond in a storm drain would get him greater fortune from god, or some tripe.
Well, there’d be nothing to lose in trying to get it.
Well, there might be—but that’s even unlikelier than our other hypothesis.
No gain without risk.
She lay on her stomach & reached her left arm inside, but was unsurprised to find that it wouldn’t reach. Luckily, she was scrawny ’nough to fit her whole body inside after removing the grill, & lowered herself in, legs-first.
Edgar, who had already noticed her sneak over to the storm drain, & now saw her going inside, walked over to it & peeked inside. He glanced round himself to ensure nobody was looking.
“Find anything?” he whispered.
Autumn’s face suddenly popped into view like a deranged clown.
“I think so. Help me up, please.”
She reached her left arm & head up & Edgar grasped her by the head & shoulder & pulled while Autumn pushed. Soon she was outside ’gain, ’cept now covered in cobwebs with her shoes & the bottom o’ her pants dripping with dark water.
Autumn looked round ’gain, whispered, “Come,” & they scurried ’way.
When they reached an obscure alley blocks ’way, she stopped & took the object from her pocket. It continued to sparkle, even through the dirt. She dusted it off with the bottom o’ her shirt & saw that it looked just like an authentic diamond—’cept ’twas much bigger than normal & pulsed.
“Is that a diamond? It looks pretty,” Edgar said.
“Yeah. It’s throbbing, for some reason, though.”
“It’s throbbing, like a hard, sharp heart.”
“I didn’t even know diamonds could do that,” Edgar said, his eyeholes widening.
She shook her head. “Bizarre. I wonder if he did drop it as some obscure ritual. Maybe that’s why it looks & feels so different.”
“Maybe it’s karma. Your bad luck being made up by good,” Edgar said.
“I doubt that,” Autumn said as she continued to stare @ it. “Still, we should rush to the library ’fore it closes & research it to get a better idea o’ what price we should sell it for.”
Edgar gasped. “Think o’ how much it’ll be worth. You won’t have to sleep in storm drains anymore.”
So she snuck it into a secret pocket in her pants & they ventured toward the nearest library. By this point the sun had vanished & the city twinkle blue with white stars. Though they were used to warm noons & cold nights, this day seemed to be reversed, with the chilly rains leaving ’hind a balmy evening. As they went, they saw Boskeopolis rev back to life with copious cars riding past them in both directions.
Autumn, was glancing both ways as she crossed the street with Edgar when she felt the earth below her disappear & fell into a black hole. A few meters later, she landed in water. She swam round in whatever direction she was already facing till she finally reached ground & climbed out. Eventually she found the ladder back up.
“Autumn, are you OK?” Edgar asked as he looked down @ her soaking head pop out the sewer, dripping brown water on the pavement.
“O, let me check something…” Autumn riffled through her secret pocket. “OK, good. The diamond’s still there.”
She climbed out & they resumed their trek, Autumn huddled & sneezing, shivering from the cold sewer water.
“Uh, you want us to stop somewhere where you can clean that off?” Edgar asked.
“No. Let’s hurry to the library ’fore it closes,” she muttered. She glanced round herself. “I don’t want to be out here anymore than I have to be. There may be other thieves round, & I don’t think I could live with the ignominy o’ being robbed myself.”
Suddenly, she felt something heavy crack gainst her head. She felt the spot on her head & grabbed something. When she looked @ her hands she saw shards o’ glass. She looked up & saw that she was just under a streetlamp that was now missing its bulb.
“Are you OK?” Edgar asked.
“Yeah,” she said as she started moving ’gain. “Odd.”
“You seem to be having some bad luck,” Edgar said uneasily. “You don’t think it’s ’cause o’ the good luck o’ finding that diamond, do you.”
Autumn exhaled petulantly. “I wouldn’t exactly call falling in a sewer & having a lightbulb drop on my head ‘bad luck’ compared to finding what could be a multi-million-point diamond,” Autumn said. “Worse things could happen.”
After she said this, she felt the diamond pulse. She decided to ignore it.
However, as they traveled onward, Autumn noticed that trouble did seem mo’ common tonight. Though she thought she was rather careful ’bout looking both ways ’fore crossing the street, on two occasions a car almost ran into her, zooming down the street the moment she started crossing. The second time she even tried moving & then pulling back just after. The car only went after her when she was already midway through the street.
This made Autumn suspect that someone was out to get her through subtle methods. Just as she was musing on this, she was jolted by a creak & turned round just in time to see a tree fall on her, pinning her to the sidewalk while bushes o’ pokey pine leaves assaulted her face with the scent o’ the jungle.
“O my god, Autumn are you OK?” Edgar wailed as he threw his arms up.
“Yeah,” Autumn grunted as she tried to push herself out from under. “Could you help pull me out, please?”
Edgar pulled on Autumn’s shoulders while she pushed gainst the sidewalk for a few minutes ’fore she was able to squeeze out. She panted, covered in pine needles & sap, as she stared down @ the wooden monstrosity, its carcass a warped parody o’ the peaceful plants she’d never even thought ’bout before.
When she had mostly caught her breath, she said, “Edgar, I don’t think this is just bad luck: I think somebody’s out to get me.”
This only made Edgar panic mo’. “What? Why would anyone want to… to do anything to you?”
“Obviously they’re not happy ’bout my thieving. Probably a prior victim. Perhaps some moralistic nutjob with an obsessed hatred o’ criminals. I mean, you know I’m not the best-loved person in the world, right?
“Anyway, the important thing is that we be careful.”
“You want me to help you get those pine needles out o’ your hair?” Edgar asked.
Autumn looked @ Edgar as if he had asked her if he could buy her an air balloon.
“That’s OK. Let’s just move on,” she replied.
Autumn was turning her head @ virtually every step this time, wary o’ danger in every window o’ every building, in every tree, ’hind every fence, & in every sewer hole. Since she was already careful, & this had clearly failed, she didn’t have high hopes that this was useful.
Well, the prospect o’ death should hardly be surprising, she told herself. You never knew this to be a safe profession.
Still, with the possibility fresh in her mind, she wondered if there was something she should do in preparation. Then ’gain, hadn’t she already tried optimizing her time to be used toward her one goal—success? What could she do now but just continue?
She glanced to her side & saw Edgar looking all round them himself, his face a clear picture o’ fright. Should she say anything to him just in case? She was almost certain there was nothing intelligent she could compose.
This saddened her a bit.
A kilometer later, they reached the library. She even saw by the light inside the main hall, visible through the glass pane in the front door, that ’twas still open.
Perhaps this place will be safer, Autumn thought. Hopefully this screwjob isn’t bold ’nough to attack me in such a public place.
Since ’twas so late, & most had gone home by then, they had no trouble finding a computer. As the browser loaded, she extracted the diamond from her pocket & looked @ it once mo’. She could still see & feel it pulse in her hand. There was no denying it, now.
Well, that just makes it easier to describe specifically, she thought as she typed her query in the search box.
She clicked the first result & saw that it led to a webpage dripping with professionalism: blurry, beveled link buttons on the left; blurry ads full o’ clip art scattered thoughtlessly @ the top; & the main text found within a classic-bordered table, the text itself manifested in a variety o’ colors & sizes. She soon saw that the description equaled in professionalism: it said nothing ’bout price, but ’stead spewed some drivel ’bout its carrier being “cursed” by some god with an unpronounceable name & that this “curse” would leave the holder with bad luck so long as she holds the diamond. Autumn hit the backspace key with disgust.
Edgar turned to Autumn. “Did you read that? Maybe it truly is bad luck that caused all those incidents.”
“I wouldn’t put much trust in that page,” Autumn muttered.
But when she tried the other pages, she saw that they all parroted the same claim. Mo’ worryingly, two specifically mentioned the throbbing, claiming that ’twas a reaction to certain environmental cues—the most likely being an upcoming unfortunate event.
“It’s possible that they’re all simply stealing from the same source, whatever that original source was,” Autumn said as she rose from her chair after a half-hour’s worth o’ futile search. “It’s mo’ likely that they’re all fake & that there’s really no useful information on this.”
“Then what’s causing all these problems?” Edgar asked.
“I told you, some screwjob’s out to get us,” Autumn replied. “There’s no point in speculating ’bout it, anyway: I’m certainly not abandoning this diamond, even if it is the cause. & if it is, well, then it’ll all hopefully go ’way when I sell it.”
After they left, they headed straight for Honey Plaza to find a shop in which to sell the diamond. I’ll just have to guess the price, Autumn thought grimly. I’ll almost certainly be ripped off; but there’s no other option. Hopefully it’ll pulse as I’m showing it to them; maybe that’ll make them think it’s mo’ valuable.
She was so distracted by this concern that she had forgotten all ’bout her earlier problem, & so was unprepared when she felt something heavy ram into her from the side. It knocked her into the fence on the other side so hard that she broke through it, lying splayed over scattered piles o’ wood, feeling it impale her in numerous places. From ’hind, she could hear a piercing screech & then a motor zoom ’way in the distance.
So the bastard finally sprouted the spine to ding me, I see, she thought.
To Autumn’s surprise, Edgar didn’t fly into a wail, but ’stead asked Autumn, “Are you all right,” in a calm but sad tone.
Autumn pushed herself up off the broken fence, only to collapse back down from the sharp pain in her side.
“You need help?” Edgar asked.
“No,” Autumn grunted as she made ’nother attempt. This time she went slower & found that ’twas slightly easier. Eventually she was straight-legged ’gain—albeit, leaning on an unbroken part o’ the fence, holding her side with the other hand.
“D’you think you should go to a hospital?” Edgar asked.
“Don’t be zany,” Autumn grunted. “Those scam artists will just drill us out o’ money we don’t even have. I’ll be fine.”
“How long d’you think it’ll take till we’ve sold that diamond?” Edgar asked.
“It shouldn’t take long,” Autumn said ’tween heavy breaths. “Though, perhaps you should return to your hideout just to be safe. Wouldn’t want whoever’s after me hitting you on accident.”
“You need help walking?” Edgar asked, ignoring her previous comment.
“No.It’ll be fine,” she said as she started walking. She cringed @ the pain in her side that throbbed @ every step, but she was able to do it, all the same.
Edgar followed. Autumn said nothing.
What she was less fond o’, though, was Edgar’s maneuvering himself tween her & the street, the sneaky bastard.
“Edgar, don’t you think that’s a terrible place to be?” Autumn asked. “If that screwjob in the car tries to hit me ’gain he’ll hit you ’stead.”
“Well, maybe he’ll be less likely to do so if I’m here ’stead,” Edgar replied.
That didn’t make it taste any better in Autumn’s mouth, but she said nothing. She remembered the Iggy’s Fork: either let him kill himself or drive him to it by having herself eliminated. No solution.
Even so, the next few blocks were peaceful—which was fine ’nough for Autumn, since she still had the ache in her side to deal with. During this period, what truly assailed them was not an incident in question, but merely the anticipation. The diamond’s pulsation acting up ’gain offered no help.
& then she saw it: a brown grizzly growling so great, its mouth dribbled with saliva. They didn’t need any extra indication that it knew they were there, for ’twas slowly crawling toward them.
Autumn harshly rubbed her face with her left palm & said through gritted teeth, “O, come the fuck on.”
Edgar tugged on Autumn’s T-shirt. “Should we run?”
“That’s a great idea,” Autumn said, keeping her eye on the grizzly: “Run from a bear. I’m sure that’ll work out swell.”
“Then what should we do?” Edgar whispered, shaking in panic.
“Act calm,” Autumn said. “They can smell fear, anger, & pessimism.”
So they just stood there, Edgar wrapping his arms round himself in a nugatory attempt to still his nerves while Autumn averted her eyes from the bear. Ironically, Autumn was mo’ ’fraid o’ the bear attacking Edgar ’cause he wouldn’t stop shaking so much.
The bear continued to pad its way forward till ’twas right in front o’ them. It took a second to sniff Autumn’s sweat pants, then Edgar’s robe—which caused Edgar to panic even harder—and then Autumn ’gain.
“See, Edgar, you just have to act calm,” Autumn said. “Bear’s generally try to avoid contact with humans & will only attack if—”
She was cut off when the bear suddenly lunged @ Autumn, knocking her to the ground. Edgar immediately turned round to see the bear lying on top o’ her, clawing @ her face while its sharp-toothed mouth snarling ’bove.
“Autumn, no!” Edgar shouted as he rushed forward.
Without thinking, Edgar pushed gainst the bear, which didn’t even make it budge. It did, however, make the bear turn its face to Edgar & growl so deep that Edgar could feel the steamy air from the bear’s throat blow into his face. He noted that the bear needed a breath mint.
This distracted the bear ’nough to give Autumn the opportunity to pull out her lighter & set it afire.
Hate to do this to you, pal, but you’ve left me no choice, she thought as she thrust the flame @ the bear.
The bear roared & jumped back, standing on its hind legs. It looked down & saw that a tuft o’ its belly was on fire.
Autumn returned to her feet & held her lighter up, the flame still dancing ’bove.
“You’d better stay back if you don’t want any mo’ o’ this,” she said.
The bear returned to its four legs & ran ’way, growling the entire way.
Edgar slouched his shoulders. “Are you all right?” he asked tiredly.
He turned to Autumn to see that her face was covered with deep red cuts, as well as a large scratch on her glasses.
“Yes.It’s nothing,” she muttered as she returned her lighter to her pocket. “We should almost be there, anyway, ’less a UFO decides to randomly appear & warp us to the sun.”
Indeed, only one mo’ block later, they were in Honey Plaza, looking @ every sign for a shop that would likely buy jewelry: they saw a sign for “Muffin Time” that declared, “When it’s time to eat muffins, it’s muffin-eating time”; they saw a sign for “Burt’s Hardware," which had the image o’ a wrench with a smiley face & eyeballs; they saw a sign for “Diamonds Forever”; they had a sign for “Orson’s Organs,” which had the image o’ a pancreas with a smiley face & eyeball—
“What a minute, what was that last shop,” Autumn said, rudely interrupting the narrator.
They turned back to Diamonds Forever’s door, only to see that ’twas dark inside & that ’bove the door glowed a neon sign that said, “CLOSED.”
“Well, that sucks,” Autumn said. “Guess we’ll just have to wait till tomorrow.”
Edgar winced. “We need to find a place to hide the diamond till then.”
She turned to him. “What are you talking ’bout? It’s already hidden in one o’ my secret pockets.”
“You’re not actually planning on keeping it with you all night…?”
“’Course I am. What, d’you think I’m dumb ’nough to just leave my property lying round where anyone can take it?”
“But, Autumn, the curse—”
“I just fought a bear with a lighter,” Autumn said. “After that, no cute curses will keep me from me gold.”
Autumn softly grasped Edgar by his shoulder with her good arm, staring straight into his eyeholes. He grimaced as he saw the bleeding cuts & cracked glasses up close.
She said in a low voice, “Listen, Edgar: this diamond’s liable to be my ticket to success—my chance to finally stop being a street rat living in an abandoned sewer. If I have to risk killing myself to get there, so be it.”
Edgar averted his eyes. He knew there was no point in arguing.
She released him & returned her good hand to her pockets.
“Good. Now, we should return home,” Autumn said with a haggard look. “I wish our turtle cave was closer to this plaza, but what’ll you do.”
They turned & headed home, first through the same path they came, & then through a different path when they hit Orange Avenue. During their trek, Edgar couldn’t help but get edgy whenever he heard a car drive by, saw a person walk by, or heard a tree rustle.
Though Autumn continued to look round herself in every direction, she didn’t concern herself any mo’. Autumn had learned long ago that anxiety was rarely conductive to success, & thus tried to avoid letting it trouble her as much as possible. She did what she could to avoid death and, if it didn’t help her, well, then she was dead. What’ll you do?
Autumn didn’t have to worry ’bout being hit by a car, for it never happened ’gain; this time a car merely drove by & shot @ her with a 20s-era gangster machine gun. Two bullets pierced her—one in the stomach & ’nother in the arm—both pushing her into the fence to her side, which she also broke through into splintery pieces.
Edgar was rattled by the blast o’ the bullets, but was otherwise composed. He couldn’t say he didn’t expect this. He looked @ Autumn & asked weakly, “Autumn, are you OK?”
She sat back up, rubbing her stomach. “Yeah.”
She stood & continued wordlessly @ a clumsy, but steady, pace. Edgar scurried after her, also not saying anything. He did, however, glance over @ her & saw her bite her lip & glare @ the sidewalk. He didn’t need telepathy to guess the approximate o’ what she was thinking, I’ll be damned if I give up my loot, even if I have to lose all my organs to keep it.
Edgar simply stared down @ the sidewalk in sadness. After all, what’ll you do?
Autumn suddenly felt a box o’ wire mesh smack her in the back, knocking her backward into it. She saw that ’twas a shopping cart rolling down the sidewalk @ crack-addict speed. It crashed into the fire hydrant @ the end only to make the hydrant blow its caps, causing water to spurt up & to its sides. The rising spurt propelled Autumn high up in the air like a pulled-back slingshot while the kinetic energy o’ her ride on the cart still made her move forward. She finally stopped when she smacked face-first into the window o’ a commercial building, her lower body hitting the wall ’neath. The window’s gray glass cracked @ the impact, causing it to break into shards & fall after Autumn, who crashed thirty meters on the pavement below. She grunted in pain as she felt all the bones in her back crumble, only to grunt ’gain when she felt the glass shards plunge into her like falling spikes.
She lay there, unable to move as her body had virtually been turned into liquid, waiting for the next contrived object to hit her.
She achieved her wish when she heard some woman say ’bove, “Well, I guess the only thing to do with this broken grand piano is to throw it ’way out this window,” ’fore seeing a small black rectangle fall out a window high ’bove & quickly grow to enormous size as it neared.
“O, come the fuck on!” Autumn shouted. “That doesn’t even make any sense! How contrived can you be, you stupid diamond?”
She swore she could feel the diamond pulsing with glee in her pocket as she watched the piano loom closer like a chasing monster. It finally grew so big & so close that it engulfed her completely, covering her whole body with a sharp, stinging pain that eventually oozed out into numb unconsciousness.
Autumn’s eyes slowly peeled open to see that she was in a stark white room with some maniac in a baby-blue surgeon’s cap smiling down on her.
“Androgyn, you sure had a nasty accident, Madame. Every bone in your body was crushed so fine they became millions o’ invisible atoms; blood oozed out so much you looked like a drenched beet when your li’l skeleton friend brought you in,” the surgeon said. “Also, I think you might have four types o’ cancer.”
Autumn tried to ask him if the diamond was still OK, but found that she was unable to speak.
The doctor must have sensed what she was trying to do, for he said next, “Now, now, Madame: you musn’t wear your new body out so soon by trying to speak. We’ll add a voice module in later. Just rest now.”
Voice module? New body? What the hell is this shi—
She gazed down & noticed something odd. She did notice earlier that her vision was covered by somewhat foggy glass, but was used to that, wearing glasses & all. She noticed this glass was a murkier green & appeared rounded @ the edges, which she’d originally guessed was some new glasses they gave her, since her old ones surely broke. Now, however, she saw that these were no glasses, but a jar full o’ some green-gray liquid.
Even lower, she saw through the crack ’tween her T-shirt & sweats, the numerous holes in them both, under her sweats, & under her sleeves that most o’ her body was now made o’ rusty gray metal.
She relaxed. Maybe the diamond’s still safe…
She looked back up @ the doctor & saw that he had a guilty smile on his face—the kind one would expect from a naughty li’l boy caught sneaking cookies out o’ the cookie jar.
“Now, Madame, I understand you may be a bit miffed ’bout your new body; but I can assure you that it’ll work just like your old one”—then he said quickly & quietly, “’Cept for a few li’l bugs, no problem.”
He continued in his syrupy tone with his huge, scraggly hands clasped together, “& I promise that none o’ the oncoming procedures will be excruciatingly painful.
“Now, let me just turn that dial so you can get some rest,” he said as he reached forward to something on the side o’ her head. Autumn attempted to lift her arm & stop him, but was too late. The dial’s function kicked in immediately & she suddenly felt her consciousness slip ’way.
The smiling doctor lied. Autumn felt her eyes peel open ’gain & a numb jabbing grow into a ruthless stinging all over her. She saw herself now in a dark room lit by neon dark red light beams & saw through their dim light the surgeon’s crazed face smiling open-mouthed as he proceeded to hammer a giant nail into her with frantic energy.
She internally sighed in relief as she saw him stop, only to see him pull on a metal-framed visor & light a blue-flamed torch. She felt the temperature in whatever formed her nerves now rise to a boiling level, including the water in her head jar, which steamed so much that its glass fogged.
Finally, when he pulled the visor up his eyes, he stopped @ Autumn’s head jar & seemed to notice she was conscious.
“Oops!” he said with a li’l laugh as he put a black-gloved hand to his mouth as if he had merely told an inappropriate joke in polite company. “I thought I should have given a greater dose on your sleep dial. Lemme try ’gain.”
He pulled on it ’gain. This time Autumn didn’t resist. Whatever he did afterward, being numb during it must be a godsend, she decided.
As she slowly slipped into sleep once mo’, she thought, I just hope that bastard doesn’t throw ’way my pants & the diamond or find it & steal it. Just let the diamond be safe…
Her eyes peeled open yet ’gain, only to see a different doctor with concerned eyesstaring down @ her.
“Ah, you’re awake, Madame. I’d like to apologize for the trouble Dr. Equinox caused you with his unsolicited tinkering round. He’s always going round trying out his experiments on patients, the kidder.” He gave a short chuckle. “Anyway, we’ve fixed you up so that you’re much better: none o’ that crazy robotic body & brain-in-a-jar nonsense.”
Autumn looked down only to see that her metallic body was now replaced with a bunch o’ flopping green tentacles where her arms & legs should be. Round her stomach area she could feel the wiggling o’ slimy substances—as if her stomach now comprised a net o’ worms—but she could see nothing, for her familiar shirt & pants were still covering her body.
Hopefully the diamond’s still there…
She tried to ask the doctor if she could have some privacy, making up whatever ’scuse she could conjure in the meanwhile, but found that her ability to speak had still not been delivered. She attempted to raise one o’ her arms so she could point @ her mouth & indicate to the doctor her problem, but found that she could do nothing but make them flop round in slightly different ways.
However, the doctor must have noticed the effort, for he said in a gentler emulation o’ Dr. Equinox, “Now, Madame, you shouldn’t try to use your body too much yet. It needs time to heal & fully recognize your nervous system so it can respond to your needs.”
He said nothing ’bout Autumn’s missing vocal capabilities.
But she did see him turn the crank on some big bulbous pipe next to her & then hold a clear cup over where she breathed—her mouth & nose? Did she still have those? She felt a strange but soothing air fill her throat & her eyes glazed closed, her mind yet ’gain knocked unconscious.
Autumn’s eyes slid open, giving her déjà vu. Autumn saw ’nother unrecognizable doctor, this time with short hair & boxy glasses. She was not smiling, but staring down @ her with an embarrassed frown.
She scratched ’hind her head & said, “I must apologize for the unorthodox operations you have been subjected to under Dr. Equinox & then some actor who only played doctors on TV, Madame. Hopefully you have not been too traumatized.”
Once ’gain, Autumn looked down to see what her new body looked like now. She saw that ’twas now skin & bones ’gain; but ’stead o’ the same brown shade, she saw an erratic mix o’ light, medium, & dark splotches cover her skin, all bordered by sewing lines.
“I’m ’fraid we couldn’t salvage all o’ your old body, since ’twas destroyed so much; but we were able to stitch you up some extra skin & give you a few donated organs.”
She pointed to a wrinkly, dark patch on Autumn’s arm. “That patch came from my grandmother, who donated her skin just after she died.” Then she pointed @ ’nother, pinkish, splotch. “& that one came from a juggler from Verditropolis.”
Autumn tried to move her arms & found that they operated perfectly fine. She then attempted to speak & discovered, to her surprise, that it actually worked—in her usual voice to slipper.
“What happened to my old clothes?” she asked, for what concerned her most when she looked down @ her body was not the patched-together skin grafts, but that they were covered by a light blue patient’s gown ’stead o’ her traditional clothes.
“O, gee, I don’t know,” the doctor said with a shrug. “A nurse handled all o’ that, & I don’t know which one.
“You know, you should consider yourself lucky that the operation worked so well, what with all o’ the risks involved. We were sure a lot o’ the organs would have been rejected or the skin grafts would cause complications; but it all seemed to work as if by miracle. You are one lucky woman.”
Autumn sat up, glad to find that ’twas easier than she’d have expected, & pushed the doctor back. She stood up & looked all round the room, but couldn’t find them anywhere.
“You haven’t seen a pair o’ gray sweat pants lying anywhere round here?” Autumn asked as she picked up a stack o’ magazines, thinking her pants may be hiding under them, the sneaky bastards.
“Uh, no, Madame, I can’t say I have. Sorry,” the doctor answered as she watched Autumn scour the room. “Was there something valuable in one o’ its pockets?”
Autumn aimed a distrustful eye @ the doctor. “Why do you want to know?”
“Well, I mean, I figure that must be the case if you’re so intent on finding them,” the doctor answered. “I mean, surely you would not go through all this trouble just for a pair o’ pants.”
“I’ll have you know they were rather comfy,” Autumn said with an upward tilt o’ her head.
The doctor stared @ Autumn warily.
Finally, she said, “Well, I promise this hospital will try as hard as we can to help you find your missing wardrobe & we’ll call you when we do.”
“Right, after you take whatever treasures you find inside,” Autumn said huffily. “& what if I don’t have a phone?”
“Uh, we’ll find a way to contact you, Madame,” the doctor said. “Now, you may want to see your skeleton friend? He hasn’t been able to see you for a while, what with the tinkering o’ the other two ‘doctors.’”
Autumn agreed, only ’cause she was sure she couldn’t find her pants in there & wanted to search other parts o’ the hospital. She continued turning her head in all directions when Edgar ran up to her, called her name, & wrapped his arms round her.
“It’s been so long!” he exclaimed. “I heard they did strange things to you, like turn you into a robot & an octopus.”
“Yeah, yeah…” Autumn said, still turning her head left & right. “Have you seen my sweat pants?”
“O, no,” Edgar said. “I haven’t been able to see you since you first went in there with that crazy-looking doctor. You looked truly banged-up, though. They probably threw them ’way ’cause they were probably so torn up.”
Autumn’s face flushed with anger. “Bullshit. They looked perfectly fine during the previous two experiments. Don’t tell me the third doctor’s so clumsy she couldn’t do her minor operation without destroying my clothes. ’Sides, you’d think they’d check if they had any items inside before they did so—unless they did do that & somebody decided to take home themselves a li’l prize.”
Edgar stared @ Autumn with confusion for a second ’fore gasping. “The diamond! That’s right…”
“Shhh!” Autumn whispered, leaning her face closer to Edgar’s. “You want everyone to know ’bout it & join in on the plundering?”
Edgar scratched his head—an odd, accidental imitation o’ her recent doctor. “Gee, it seems like you’d be better off without that diamond though, what with the bad luck it’s brought you.”
“That diamond was worth millions!” Autumn said in a low voice. “You didn’t intentionally get rid o’ it did you?” Her eyes twisted in a desperation that Edgar couldn’t bear to see.
Edgar shook his head. “I told you, I wasn’t in there since you first entered. As far as I know, you still had your normal clothes on when you went inside.”
Autumn sighed. “Well, then someone else probably stole them & is making a killing off my treasure.”
“In probably a different way than you meant,” Edgar said with sadness in his expression, too.
“Come; let’s go ’fore they expect us to pay them for their shoddy work,” Autumn whispered.
She grabbed Edgar’s arm & led him to the front door, looking round her on the way, expecting someone to stop them any moment now.
& indeed, her heart jumped when she heard a voice ask, “Checking out, Madame… O, we never got your name.”
Autumn peeked ’hind her & saw that the source o’ that voice was a man standing ’hind the main counter, looking @ Autumn from ’hind a computer & a stack o’ papers.
“Sarah Morrison,” Autumn said immediately.
“Here, we’ll need you to fill out these forms ’fore you leave,” the attendant said as he reached for a paper @ the top o’ a stack ’hind him.
Autumn swiftly filled out the paper with bunk info—though trying to make it resemble legitimate info @ first glance—and handed it back to the attendant. ’Fore he could say anything, Autumn moved on toward the front door, though with a normal gait so as to avoid suspicion.
Glancing ’hind her, she could see the attendant immediately return to his work.
Good: we’re clear.
However, Autumn decided not to leave the hospital area just yet: ’stead, she turned round the side to the alley, where its dumpster lay.
“Why are we going this way?” Edgar asked, when he noticed Autumn’s detour.
She stopped next to the dumpster & opened its lid.
“O,” Edgar said—and nothing mo’. Compared to keeping a life-threatening diamond, digging through dumpsters for said diamond was nothing to complain ’bout. “You need me to help you with anything?”
“Yes: give me a lift, please.”
Edgar did so, lifting Autumn by the waist high ’nough so that she could crawl all the way inside. She dug for almost a half hour ’fore giving up, clomping back onto the ground with dirt & banana peels covering her patient’s gown & a despondent frown.
“Yeah, somebody must’ve stolen it,” Autumn said as she led them ’way from the hospital & back toward their home in the abandoned sewers under Orange Avenue. She wrapped her arms round herself, freezing in such thin apparel out in the late midnight cold, & felt her hollow stomach rumble, going probably days without any food.
“I’m sorry,” Edgar said, his own low hanging face mimicking Autumn’s. “Well, on the bright side, you won’t have to worry ’bout bad luck killing you anymore,” he hesitantly continued, knowing Autumn wouldn’t think so herself.
All Autumn replied was, “I don’t know…” with a shake o’ her head.
They walked in silence.
After a few minutes, Autumn glanced toward Edgar & said, “Edgar… if I… just in case I’m ever killed…”
“You shouldn’t say that,” he said quietly.
“I know. But just in case I am…”
“Never mind,” she said.
“Never mind.” She shook her head. “It’s stupid.”
“So, what’ll we do now?”
“Same thing we do every night, Edgar: try, try to find that .1% successful heist within the 99.9% o’ failures.”